Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns have New Year's Six bowl game chance but need some help

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The Sun Belt Conference feels one of its members should play in a New Year’s Six bowl as the College Football Playoff’s top ranked Group of Five champion.

For it to be UL, however, the Ragin’ Cajuns would need some help – and to help themselves.

It starts with the No. 18 Cajuns (9-1) having to beat No. 12 Coastal Carolina (11-0) in the Sun Belt Conference championship game Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN) in Conway, South Carolina.

UL – which could up wind up at the Camellia Bowl on Christmas Day in Montgomery, Alabama, or in the Dec. 26 Cure Bowl in Orlando if things don’t fall its way – also would need No. 20 Tulsa (6-1) to beat host No. 6 Cincinnati (8-0) in the American Athletic Conference title game Saturday (7 p.m., ABC).

Then the Cajuns would have a great argument for playing in a big-payday bowl, perhaps the Jan. 1 Peach Bowl in Atlanta or the Dec. 30 Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.

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UL coach Billy Napier won’t make the Cajuns’ case before Saturday, however.

“That’s not my job,” Napier said. “My job is to coach the football team.

“That’s what I’m worried about. You know, all that stuff will take care of itself down the road. It doesn’t even matter. … Right now we’ve got a lot of other issues to worry about.”

That’s primarily how to beat Coastal Carolina, which handed UL its only loss when Massimo Biscardi’s 40-yard field goal made the difference Oct. 14 at Cajun Field.

Then it comes down to what happens in the AAC game, and how final playoff committee declarations fall.

Tuesday night’s updated CFP rankings saw Cincinnati drop one spot to No. 9, Coastal Carolina move up one to No. 12, UL stay No. 19 and Tulsa jump one position to 23.

The Sun Belt argues it deserves a New Year’s Six spot, not the AAC, essentially suggesting Cincinnati’s strength of schedule is weaker while Coastal Carolina beat an unranked Big 12 team in its season opener (Kansas), beat ranked BYU earlier this month and beat UL.

Tulsa has victories over two teams ranked when they played, UCF and SMU.

UL also has a season-opening win over a Big 12 opponent, Iowa State (8-2), No. 6 in the latest CFP rankings.

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UL coach Billy Napier gets the Ragin' Cajuns ready to play Coastal Carolina last Oct. 14 at Cajun Field. Coastal won 30-27. The same teams meet Saturday in the Sun Belt championship game.

The Sun Belt makes CFP argument

CFP selection committee chairman Gary Barta was asked by ESPN about the wide gap between Iowa State and UL, which beat the Cyclones 31-14. Barta cited factors including subsequent Iowa State wins over ranked Oklahoma and Texas, its first-place standings in the Big 12 and an improved offense and defense.

“What Iowa State has done since that loss – it says more about that than it does about Louisiana’s play,” he said.

Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill’s case for Coastal Carolina and UL centers largely on win totals.

“If you look at all the teams that are ranked in our subdivision, you look at the number of wins that Coastal has. The only team in our subdivision that’s close to them in terms of number of wins is Louisiana,” he said. “So we have the most wins. We’ve gone out all year and played games and won them, and I think that that should matter.”

Gill also cites Coastal’s and UL’s wins over ranked opponents compared to none for Cincinnati.

“We’ve got the best wins on the board,” Gill said.

“Clearly, no matter what happens in any other championship game, I think that would make the Sun Belt champion worthy of being the New Year’s Six representative.”

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Bowl possibilities abound for the Cajuns

Three Sun Belt teams already have bowls bids.

Appalachian State will play North Texas in the new Myrtle Beach Bowl, Georgia State will face Western Kentucky in the LendingTree Bowl that UL won last season and Georgia Southern has Louisiana Tech in the New Orleans Bowl.

If UL and Coastal Carolina aren’t pulled to a non-Sun Belt affiliated game, the Cajuns may be ticketed to play a MAC team at the Camellia Bowl , while the Chanticleers go to the Cure Bowl.

But other possibilities for UL remain.

If Coastal goes to a New Year’s Six game, there’s an opening in Orlando. Or – a longshot – either Coastal or UL could get invited elsewhere if enough Power 5 teams elect not to play in a bowl, as a few already have.

For now, then, the Sun Belt is in no hurry to lock UL and Coastal in anywhere.     

“Obviously we have a great opportunity at a New Year’s Six and that is what our aspirations are,” Gill said, “so we’ll certainly never do anything to preclude that.”

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